Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Empire of Sand

I saw Tasha Suri's Empire of Sand at work the other day.  It sounded really interesting, so I decided to give it a read. 

Empire of Sand is the story of Mehr.  She is the illegitimate daughter of an Ambhan Governor and an Amrithi woman.  Her mother was exiled when Mehr was younger and her father married another woman who disliked Mehr almost immediately because she visibly looks Amrithi.  The Amrithi are outcasts, considered to be barbarians by the Ambhan, I think mainly because their culture is so different: the Amrithi are nomads who dwell in the desert and are descended from the daiva.

Mehr lives mainly in solitude, taking comfort only in the times when she is permitted to visit her younger sister, Arwa.  Arwa doesn't visibly look Amrithi, so their stepmother has taken it upon herself to raise Arwa in ignorance of her Amrithi heritage (which Mehr insists on practicing - her father, out of guilt, allows her to continue her practice).  So Mehr spends much of her time dancing the Amrithi rites her mother and later her friend Lalita taught her; the rites bring her joy.

A dreamfire storm is approaching Mehr's home soon (dreamfire is the manifestation of the Gods' dreams - the Gods are slumbering under the desert).  Her teacher promises that they will dance one of the rites together; Mehr is excited because it is the first time she as ever been able to.  But when her teacher fails to appear, Mehr leaves the house to look for her.  When the storm surrounds her, she pleads with it to lead her to Lalita; she finds only Lalita's friend and guardian Usha dying instead. Once the storm passes, Mehr is found by her father's guards, but disgraced because she is wearing no veil.  Her father tells her her actions will have consequences, and so she will be forced to marry.  While Mehr has never wanted to marry, especially someone from another province because she does not want to lose her Amrithi heritage, she at least will be given the choice of who to marry: this choice is the only one permitted to Ambhan women - the choice of whose burdens to share; it is a choice that the Ambhan take very seriously and is respected by all.  And while Mehr is part Amrithi, she is also part Ambhan, and so this is a choice she will have to make for herself.

Unfortunately Mehr's actions during the storm draw the attention of the Maha, the spiritual leader of the Ambham Empire (and the first Emperor who has been alive for many generations).  He has been searching for Amrithi with the gift and Mehr has revealed herself to have it.  His mystics arrive and inform Mehr that the Maha has a possible suitor for her.  Everyone knows that Mehr is not being given a real choice, that if she refuses the Maha he will have her family killed.  The nobles are angered, and her father wants to spirit her away to another province, but Mehr insists on accepting the match to protect her family, especially her sister.

And so she is married to Amun.  Unexpectedly, the vow is a physical thing on her skin - that is why the Amrithi make no vows (and why Mehr's mother refused to marry her father).  Vows are true binding things to the Amrithi - going against a vow will physically hurt you (and can literally kill you).  Amun has been bound to the Maha, and was instructed to lie with Mehr so that she would be bound to share his burdens (which are whatever the Maha demands); hating that Mehr was given no choice in the matter, Amun chooses to fight the vow subtly - they lie together but do not have sex to seal the deal. 

Mehr is brought with the mystics to the Maha's temple.  Everything she ever knew and loved is forcibly ripped from her (and even her culture in many ways - Mehr was raised as an Ambhan noblewoman, which meant she wore veils like armor - here her face is always bare for all to see).  The only constant is Amun, who Mehr learns is not at all the animal the other mystics treat him as.  She learns that the two of them are required to perform the Rite of the Binding, which is how the Maha has been living so long (and making the Empire prosper) - he channels the dreamfire through his Amrithi servants and uses his mystics to direct the dreams of the Gods to favour the Empire.  Mehr dares to dream of escape, for both her and Amun.  But Amun is truly bound to the Maha, and has no idea how long he can fight his vow and keep Mehr free.

Empire of Sand was awesome!  I particularly loved the worldbuilding - it's based off of Mughal Indian culture, I believe.  I loved how the Amrithi vows worked, too.  And also the Rites, how they were dances. 

I also quite liked Mehr and Amun.  Even though she felt very out of place and at times useless, Mehr helped Amun dream and hope again.  I started out not sure how to feel about her (she talked about using people a fair bit, but she was also raised in a very bad situation with her stepmother before moving into an even worse situation under the Maha, so it was kind of understandable).  In the end I thought she was a very noble woman who had grown a lot into a better person.  Amun had a rather quiet and understated character, but that was okay because it was him.  He had a subtle humour, which I loved, and was just a perfect match for Mehr in so many ways.  I really enjoyed reading about their adventures.

One thing that made me kind of shake my head (although this wasn't exactly a bad thing), was how the "bad guys" of the story were: they treated both Amun and Mehr as tools and as subhuman.  The Maha and one of his female mystics, Kalini, were particularly bad for that.  I wonder how the story might have been had people been kinder to Mehr?  If the Maha hadn't taken great pleasure in making her fear him?  Or if Kalini had encouraged Mehr to make friends (particularly with her sister, Hema?)

Overall, I loved reading Empire of Sand.  Between the worldbuilding, the characters, and the story itself, it is a fantastic book that I cannot recommend enough!

Friday, January 18, 2019

Fair Game

After reading The Night Circus, I decided to continue on with the fantasy reading.  The Night Circus reminded me of urban fantasy (but without the vampires, werewolves, witches, and fae), so I decided to read Fair Game, the third Alpha and Omega novel.

Fair Game takes place quite some time after Hunting Ground.  Werewolves have outed themselves to the world.  The Marrock Bran has tightened werewolf law; where once young wolves may have gotten a warning, now they are executed if they break that law.  And Charles is the one who gets to do the honours.  He's been sent out as his father's executioner for about a year now.  And the job is killing him. 

Luckily for Charles, he is mated to Anna.  Anna knows what is happening because Charles has stopped playing music and has shut down the bond between them.  She goes to the Marrock, who doesn't listen to her.  So then she gets Asil to help her.  It is Asil who finally gets through to Bran that Charles needs to do something else to get his mind off of all the killings he has had to do for the pack.

Luckily an opportunity comes up that is perfect: there is a serial killer loose in Boston, and the FBI want a werewolf to help them find the culprit.  Bran sends Anna to consult with them, with Charles as her bodyguard.  They discover that the victims have largely been half-blooded fae, along with a few werewolves thrown in since the werewolves have gone public.  Unfortunately for Anna and Charles, helping the FBI puts them on the killer's hit list.

I loved this book.  Reading about Anna and Charles felt like going back to visit old friends.  Fair Game was also a bit of a departure from the way Anna and Charles are in earlier novels though: Anna is in many ways the stronger one here, while Charles is the weaker one (ghosts from his executions are literally haunting him, and he is terrified they will hurt Anna so he has shut the bond down between them to protect her, even though that is hurting her terribly).  I loved the change in Anna in particular because she has grown into herself now, refusing to be anyone's victim (she even says that Charles teaching her to protect herself is the best gift he ever gave her; that he is still willing to come and help her/protect her is the second best).  And seeing Charles truly vulnerable to something was refreshing (and how the power of love literally does save him, because fearing for Anna's life helps him break through the stranglehold the ghosts have on him).

This was the first book though that I felt might have benefited from me reading more from the Mercy Thompson series (which I haven't read since 2009).  A lot of time passes between Hunting Ground and Fair Game and there's even reference to things that have happened to Mercy that I really feel like I should have read first.  But really, it's not a huge deal - those references are only made in the first chapter or so, then Fair Game goes onto its own path.

The characters were also a little hard to follow.  Anna and Charles meet six people initially in Boston: two FBI, two Homeland Security, and two agents from CANTRIP (the agency dealing with supernaturals), then a Fae.  Outside of the two FBI characters, who are around through the whole book, I had a hard time keeping all of the other characters straight, especially since I don't really think the Homeland Security ones show up again (so I kept second guessing myself with names and wondering who was who).  By the end of the book I was fine, but the middle got a bit confusing trying to keep everyone straight.

But like I said, I really did love this book.  I'm glad the series has continued (book 5 was published in 2018) so I'll be able to read more adventures of Anna and Charles in the future. :)

Sunday, January 13, 2019

The Night Circus

I've wanted to read The Night Circus for a while now.  My brother gave me a copy (I think last year) and I've been meaning to read it ever since then.  But every time I grabbed it, The Night Circus would sit on my nightstand while I inevitably started some other book instead.  I don't know why this kept happening - I've heard super good things about the book.  Interestingly, when I was talking to a friend at work about planning on starting it earlier this week, she said the exact same thing!  Strange.

But once I did actually start reading it, I finished it in just a couple of days. :)

I don't know quite how to describe the book, so I'm going to let the summary on Goodreads do the talking for me:
The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway - a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love - a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.

True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus per­formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.

Written in rich, seductive prose, this spell-casting novel is a feast for the senses and the heart.
So we have the physical circus, which is the venue chosen for Celia and Marco's duel.  Celia and Marco were trained from young ages to duel, but were never actually told by their instructors (Celia's father and the mysterious Mr. A.H.) what the parameters of the duel were.  Celia doesn't actually know who her opponent is for quite some time, while Marco knows it is her from the moment he first sees her; Celia is the circus's illusionist, and she assumes her opponent is someone else physically in the circus, but Marco is the proprietor's assistant and so manages from afar. 

This book is magic to read. The idea of using a physical place like a circus as the venue for a duel is fantastic.  The circus itself is a place where people expect to "see" magic, so anything Celia and Marco do to influence it just fits in with the general ambience.  I loved how the new tents they would create were basically love letters to each other. :)

It was also interesting just how much the circus became wrapped up with them.  By the end of the book Le Cirque des Rêves could not function without them.

One thing I had a hard time with were the dates.  The story twists and turns through time (specifically jumping ahead a few years to show what is happening to Bailey, a young boy who is enchanted with the circus and one of the twins who was born there), then heads back to show what is happening with Celia and Marco. Even though there were months and years (as well as the city), I had a hard time keeping it all straight in my head.  And once Bailey's story intersected with Celia and Marco's, this got even harder to keep straight!

Overall though, I really enjoyed The Night Circus.  It is a magical, unique book that I'm glad I finally read.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Prisoner of Ice and Snow

Back when I bought Ship Breaker, I also bought Prisoner of Ice and Snow by Ruth Lauren.  After finishing Divergent, I saw Prisoner of Ice and Snow sitting on my shelf and decided to give it a read too. And you know what was way more fun than jumping into and out of trains?  A prison break by thirteen year olds in fantasy Russia!

Valor's twin sister Sasha was given a life sentence in jail after stealing from the royal family.  So Valor decides to spring her sister from the inside!  She gets herself thrown into the same jail by shooting an arrow at the prince.  So now she just needs to find her sister and get the two of them out.  Unfortunately they are in Tyur'ma, the prison for young offenders; no one has ever successfully escaped from Tyur'ma.  But that doesn't stop Valor!  She has a plan to get them both out!

Prisoner of Ice and Snow is a lot of fun.  Seeing how Valor needs to outsmart the warden (and the prince, who has taken an interest in her), all while trying to figure out who among the prisoners she can trust (and while dealing with unexpected setbacks) was great.  There's also some really great worldbuilding - the Kingdom of Demidova is ruled by the Queen and passes through the female line.  Valor was supposed to be following in her mother's footsteps as Queen's Huntress, and Sasha was training to be the future Queen's Advisor before she was sent to jail.  I didn't get a great sense of what most of the men in the kingdom do, but Valor's father was the current Queen's Advisor before their family was disgraced by the theft, so men do not seem to be treated as second-class citizens in Demidova, which was nice to see (I remember men being second-class citizens in Melanie Rawn's Exile's series, which I read long before starting this blog).

All in all, this was a fun, super fast read that i quite enjoyed.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019


The same friend who game me Sapphire Blue and Emerald Green game me Divergent and Allegiant.  Wanting something that I figured would be a bit more of a lighthearted romp after Dredd, I decided to give Veronica Roth's Divergent series a try.

And holy crap, Hunger Games!

Beatrice Prior lives in a society where everyone has to live in one of five factions.  When you turn 16, you are submitted to a test which shows you which of the five factions you have an affinity with, then you get to choose which faction you will join in adulthood (this actually confuses me - why do they have the test if you still get to choose where you go?)  There's Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent).  Beatrice's family is Abnegation.  So if Beatrice chooses to stay with Abnegation, she will get to stay with her family, but if she chooses another faction, she doesn't get to see them anymore (unless they show up on visiting day?) - your new faction is your new family.

So when Beatrice takes the test (which involves being plugged into a machine that gives you a few simulations), her results come back as inconclusive.  The lady administering the test, Tori, warns Beatrice that she is Divergent.  She tells Beatrice not to tell anyone, then logs the results manually as Abnegation.

So Beatrice is left knowing she is Divergent.  It's dangerous for some reason, and she can't talk to anyone.  So now she has to decide which faction to join, knowing that she doesn't quite fit into any of them (but that she has more affinity for three of the five).  Ultimately she chooses Dauntless; her choice is hard on her family (particularly her father) because her brother also chooses a different faction literally moments before she does. Arriving at Dauntless, she tells the people when she arrives that her name is Tris.  And so she is ready for her new life.

But life as a Dauntless Initiate is hard.  The Initiates will be ranked and only a set amount of them will be admitted into Dauntless' ranks; the rest will be turned away as factionless.  And the Initiates who grew up in Dauntless have a clear advantage when it comes to physical skills because they all grew up fighting and jumping onto and off of trains, while the other Initiates like Tris did not.  So the new ones need to work hard to get themselves up to speed if they want to survive and thrive in Dauntless.  And Tris gets the added bonus of trying to figure out what being Divergent means (and keeping it secret).

I know that this description doesn't really sound like The Hunger Games. But both The Hunger Games and Divergent are set in a dystopian future which has divided the population up.  The Hunger Games used sectors, based on where you live; Divergent uses factions, based on your personality.  Tris also reminded me of Katniss, as being this badass young girl who triumphs over crazy odds (huh, and who plays up the vulnerability at times that benefit her - lol that was a comparison I just realized while writing this).  Oh, and the physical part of the Dauntless initiation involves teens fighting each other until one of them can't fight any more - that really made me think of The Hunger Games or the movie Battle Royale but without the killing.

Tris' love interest is Four, the guy who is training the non-Dauntless initiates.  There was a big reveal about his identity that I'm sure you'll see coming a mile away.  But that was okay; I thought their relationship was pretty cute (and I liked how her fears of intimacy came up in the book).

They also had a hilarious exchange when talking about how one of the other Initiates hated Tris:

“'Peter would probably throw a party if I stopped breathing.'

'Well,' he says, 'I would only go if there was cake.'”

 I laughed so hard when I read that. 

So at the end of Tris's initiation day, rather than celebrating, the bad guys spring their plan.  The Erudite leader had developed a mind control serum that works on everyone except those who are Divergent (hence why Divergence was bad and Divergents were killed when they were identified).  A whole bunch of stuff happens: Four is a Divergent, Tris and Four are captured, Four gets subjected to a DIFFERENT mind control thing, Tris is going to be executed, Tris is saved by her mom, her mom is also Divergent, her mom dies, she is reunited with the rest of her family, they decide to stop the bad guys, her father dies, she fights Four, she saves Four, they stop the mind control, then they flee.  End of book.

I should also mention that this isn't exactly a light-hearted romp either: someone gets their eye stabbed, someone commits suicide, there's an attempted murder, and a whole bunch of people get killed at the end of the book.

In a lot of ways, this book is really silly.  I think that most people would be Divergent because we are all a mess of traits (although I understand how the factions might operate if people chose one and just tried to live up to those ideals buy failed some times, like how Tris' mom accuses her dad of being selfish, which is against the Abnegation philosophy).  The Dauntless spend a lot of time jumping on and off of trains (and somehow only one person dies from it in the book - shouldn't more of the non-Dauntless initiates have like broken their legs jumping off the train the first time?)  But despite all the silliness, it's fun.  I mean, the Dauntless jump on and off of trains!  Lol

So if you're looking for a fun read that you don't have to think too much about, I definitely recommend this book.  It's also a fast read: it's almost 500 pages long, but the type is big so I powered through it over two days. 

But that being said, I'm not at all interested in continuing.  I know lots of people loved this series, but I just don't think it's for me. :)

Tuesday, January 8, 2019


After reading Judge Dredd: the Complete Brian Bolland, I decided to read a collection of Dredd stories I have, simply titled DreddDredd collects three shorter novels: Dredd vs. Death by Gordon Rennie, Kingdom of the Blind by David Bishop, and The Final Cut by Matthew Smith.

The first story, Dredd vs Death, made me really glad that I read the comic collection before reading this so I knew about the Dark Judges and some of what had happened with them (the two incidents that I knew of were directly referenced in this story!) The Dark Judges were defeated and trapped by Judges Dredd and Anderson again after they had nearly won (the Necropolis incident, which I am unfamiliar with outside of the prologue of this story); this time they were imprisoned beneath a penitentary in what is called "the Tomb." Before their defeat, Judge Death had marked some denizens of Mega-City One to work towards freeing the Dark Judges should something happen. After a decade of waiting, one of those men, Vernon Martins, is ready to strike. Funding the Church of Death and engineering an army of vampires, he launches an attack on the penitentiary, freeing the Dark Judges to once again continue their work of judging the living.

As interesting as the plot was, I found Dredd vs Death to be a difficult read. I thought the beginning chapters were particularly disjointed because you meet a whole bunch of characters in the first few chapters; many of them aren't particularly important for the plot (like Galen DeMarco and Chief Judge Hershey; all of the scenes with DeMarco and most of the scenes with Hershey could have easily been cut). And those were main characters from the Judge Dredd continuity; this story was also rife with little moments where you follow totally random people for a scene then they're never heard from again. It was really annoying and made for a slog of a read. Plus you don't actually get to see Dredd until Chapter 2!

Once the story really gets going (which takes several chapters), it was pretty much nonstop action as Dredd, Anderson, and Judge Giant fought to stop the Dark Judges. I wasn't at all familiar with Giant, but he was probably my favourite character in the book - he was trying to live up to Dredd's faith in him. Plus he just seems like a much more friendly and approachable guy (especially when compared to Dredd's stoicism).  Everyone else was just kind of this living legend who I knew was going to succeed no matter how bad things looked because Anderson and Dredd had survived the Dark Judges before. That being said though, I'd say the last 50 pages or so were pretty interesting as our heroes had to track the Dark Judges down and defeat them; I got to see some random parts of Mega-City One that I wasn't expecting like a Smokatorium and Resyk.

All in all though, I found this story disappointing. It kind of read like a comic book that was missing the pictures (and so missing half of the story).

Kingdom of the Blind was a very welcome change of pace.  For one thing, it read more like a prose novel than a comic missing pictures.  And for another, we actually get to meet Judge Dredd on the first page of the prologue!

In Kingdom of the Blind, Dredd starts off trying to infiltrate Jesus Bludd's inner circle using a recruit whose mind is almost impenetrable to psi-probing. Bludd's influence has been spreading but he has remained untouchable, always removed from any crime.  Plus he has the help of Kara, his mysterious enforcer who is a very strong psyker - she has been able to detect any Judge who tries to get close to Bludd.

A few months after Dredd's cadet makes contact with Bludd, Chief Judge Hershey has arranged for delegates of five other mega cities to come to Mega-City One and negotiate a worldwide extradition treaty so that fugitives from the Law will not be able to hide in other parts of the world.  Dredd's cadet gets a message to Control that Bludd is planning an attack against the summit.  This leads to a long cat-and-mouse game where Bludd is always five steps ahead of Dredd and the Justice Department.  Kingdom of the Blind is a fun little romp through Mega-City One and beyond that will lead you guessing as to what will happen next!

Although I will admit, I had kind of figured out what the end was going to look like by part way through the story.  Still, I found it interesting to see how we got there.

So that just leaves The Final Cut.  This was a strange read.  One chapter would follow Dredd, told through third person pov, then the next would follow Pete Trager, an undercover Judge; the Trager chapters were written in first person. 

The actual story has Dredd investigating murders; several bodies were recovered in a chemical pit at the base of a building being constructed.  The building is part of a prominent politician's Phoenix Project, where he is revitalizing areas of Mega-City One.  For his part, Trager is busting a criminal family when he gets wind of something sinister going on within the city that no one is talking about.  He makes it his mission to get into the secret society to bust it.

The Final Cut was a difficult read.  It deals a lot with torture and is pretty graphic in its descriptions; I considered not finishing it, but since it was the last story in this book I just soldiered on.  I'm very glad to be finished it so I can read something else.

So that was my foray into Dredd (and probably the extent of my foray into the Judge Dredd universe right now).  Between this book and the Brian Bolland collection, I'd definitely recommend the Brian Bolland collection any day.